• Unlocking land to create thriving residential developments

    Director David de Sousa discusses why partnerships between the public and private sector could hold the key to delivering high quality, new housing.

    Successfully delivering a high-quality supply of new homes is a significant issue for the UK, and a topic that is never far from the headlines. In order to tackle this challenge, central and local governments must work with the property industry to unlock potential development opportunities.

    This work has already begun. With the removal of the borrowing cap on the Housing Revenue Account for local authorities, access to funds has become easier. Not only this but local authorities can now secure finance at a lower level of repayment which makes traditionally difficult sites more viable for development.

    Opportunities offered by collaborative working

    This unlocking of previously problematic sites is a significant step that will drive increased public sector led regeneration across the UK. This could include areas with existing infrastructure that needs removal or public sector institutions that require relocation for example. By working in partnership with public sector organisations, developers can avoid controversial green belt land, and instead build on existing infrastructure to create thriving communities.

    Placemaking, and the needs of communities, are central priorities for local authorities and will therefore naturally be a focus for these organisations when approaching a regeneration scheme.  Local government’ requirement to appeal to the electorate should not be underestimated and this means they are likely to prioritise the creation of high-quality public space and landscaping. This means that these partnerships provide a unique opportunity to create meaningful social impact.

    One great example of this is the London Borough of Havering’s £1bn joint venture with private sector organisation Wates Residential to regenerate 12 existing council estates. AHR was on the selection panel and assisted the London Borough of Havering with architectural and masterplanning critique during the process. The scheme will see the council’s current stock of 966 homes replaced by 3,112 new homes of mixed tenure, increasing council rented accommodation in the area by 70 per cent. It will also double the amount of affordable housing across the 12 estates, demonstrating the potential these partnerships can hold.  

    In order to gain a successful outcome for these partnerships, it is crucial to ensure that the vision and values of the organisations within the joint venture are aligned. At AHR, we work with local authorities at the outset to establish this as we believe it is key to creating new communities that thrive. We understand the different drivers for all parties and work to bring together a team with a shared drive to create better communities. This process is informed by our understanding of the key stakeholders involved, and the varied and complex elements which go into building a desirable and futureproof community.

    Transforming unlocked land into successful communities

    Successful regeneration projects will generally involve creating mixed-use developments and therefore it is important that housing is not considered in isolation. Combining homes with community centres, retail, commercial space and education is key. This is alongside ensuring connectivity with the surrounding area and considering the accessibility of local transport nodes. Developing this multi-purpose centre is the key to creating dynamic and thriving centres that people will engage with and prosper in.

    Building a thriving community also requires a masterplan that accounts for geographic context, existing and required infrastructure, and creates the facilities required for both the short and long term. These considerations are demonstrated in the AHR-designed scheme at Manor Street in Braintree, Essex. This scheme incorporates 35 residential units, a 70-bed hotel, healthcare facility, café/restaurant, bus interchange, two-storey car park and enhanced public realm, providing a range of facilities that can be used by the entire community.

    Placemaking also plays a key role in the success of new communities and must be high on the agenda. In order to create a sense of place, generous public realm and healthy streets filled with green spaces are of paramount importance. This ensures the wellbeing of the individuals and families that will eventually reside there. In turn, this increases civic pride, which means residents are more inclined to utilise the space and ensure its maintenance. 

    New developments should also be built with the pedestrian experience in mind, as we move away from car-centric environments. If this approach is successful it can create attractive spaces that enhance connectivity with the rest of the town, while integrating green space and areas for community engagement. When built to last, with high quality materials, creating these spaces can have a transformative impact on a town as a whole.

    Finally, the design of a scheme itself is also a factor and incorporating attractive frontages that are sympathetic to the streetscape is key. This is another area in which responding to local context is key as demonstrated by the design development of the Manor Street scheme which required close liaison with Historic England due to the close proximity of sensitive Grade II listed structures. Showcasing the success that can be achieved by creating an attractive design that takes cues from the local context. 

    Final thoughts

    With funding more readily available to local authorities, the public sector has a unique opportunity to drive regeneration in local communities. However, the challenge now is to create meaningful partnerships with longevity and a shared vision, that can create the quality housing and sustainable communities required.

    It’s crucial that the public and private sector work together on wide-reaching regeneration projects to create not only new homes, but new communities which are desirable and sustainable.


    AHR Communications Team
    03 AUGUST 19
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